Colts, Pats make arguments for decade's best team
Let the debate begin.
A couple of weeks ago, Colts tight end Jacob Tamme was watching the Patriots play on television when he saw a surprising graphic pop up. It said New England had won more games over the last decade than any team in the NFL.
''I thought WE had that record,'' Tamme said Wednesday with a smile.
Technically, he's right.
NFL spokesman Corry Rush confirmed that official NFL stats only count regular-season numbers, meaning Indianapolis' 115 regular-season victories from 2000-09 are considered the most in any decade in league history. New England, however, prefers to count postseason games - the most meaningful of all - and believes it had more overall wins (133 to the Colts' 130) during the last decade.
Yes, they're merely numbers, but they do demonstrate how tricky it can be to define success in today's NFL - and how heated this rivalry between former division foes can get. It resumes Sunday at New England.
''That's what makes it fun, and I think that's why both teams respect each other so much,'' said Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri, one of only two players on either team's current roster who has been with both clubs. ''But I don't think that's really important unless you're sitting around a campfire drinking a beer.''
Judging by the ultimate measuring stick, it's no contest. New England went 3-1 in Super Bowls during the last decade compared with 1-1 for the Colts.
If, however, you prefer consistency, well, things get a little more complex.
Indy (6-3) has a record seven straight 12-win seasons, it won 23 straight regular-season games - breaking New England's record - and has missed the playoffs only once since 2000. New England missed the playoffs three times during that span, though the Pats do own one more division title (seven) than the Colts and have the NFL's only undefeated regular season since the 1972 Miami Dolphins.
And you can forget about trying to persuade fans or officials in the respective organizations to concede defeat.
Last December, after the Colts pulled their starters early against the New York Jets in a game that ended Indy's pursuit of perfection, team president Bill Polian explained that the Colts had done it partly because they had already achieved two of the records they wanted most - longest winning streak and victories in a decade.
It didn't take the Pats (7-2) long to argue they held that mark.
''I didn't know that, but they definitely have an argument,'' Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney said. ''But to me, who really cares? When you're retired, you can both say, 'We had a great tenure.'''
The debate goes deeper than numbers.
Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are two of the game's elite quarterbacks, and fans and teammates find themselves in opposite corners, too.
Manning has a record four MVP awards and one Super Bowl ring. Brady has three Super Bowl rings and one MVP.
Not surprisingly, teammates line up in the same opposite corners as the fans.
But as the two teams renew their annual November rivalry in Foxborough, Mass., they don't have time to think about the historic implications.
It's the eighth consecutive season the teams have met in the regular season and the fifth straight year they've played in November. They've also met in the AFC playoffs three times since the 2003 season, and the balance of power has completely shifted in the series.
New England won six straight from 2001 through the 2004 season. Indy has won five of the last six, including last year's memorable game in which Patriots coach Bill Belichick turned the ball over deep in his own territory after the Colts stymied a fourth-and-2 play. Indy rallied for the win.
''I think if you look at most of our games against Indianapolis, they've all been very - most of them - have been very close, whichever way they've gone,'' Belichick said. ''I think the overall competitiveness of the games would, (with) a play or two here or there, (change) things in a little different direction.''
And perhaps change the perception of who is the better team - regardless of the spin each puts on it.
''You can make an argument for a lot of different things,'' Belichick said. ''In the end, it's each individual team and that collection of players that particular year and that particular time during the season or whatever it is, that was able to go out there and be successful. ... The Colts have done a great job over the last decade - whatever it's been. They've just been good, won a lot of games and done it the right way.''